A couple of days ago, Michael Fay wrote this guest blog post on his experience at the Bread Loaf Writing Conference in 1978. Here’s Michael for a return visit and more reminiscing about writing during the 70s, this time in the Literary Arts Program at the Banff Centre, Alberta.
Bill Mitchell and the Banff Centre 1976
I was tingling with excitement in the spring of 1976 when I found out I had been accepted into the Creative Writing program at the Banff Centre. It was early in the history of that venerable institution, but not too early to attract participants from across North America. And what a lively gang they proved to be.
I was young and struggling and couldn’t really afford six weeks at the Centre, so I managed to cobble together a job as the ID checker in the cafeteria and a spot at the nearby campground to pitch my tent.
W. O Mitchell was the titular head of the program. But he was really raconteur-in-chief. He sat in on all the seminar sessions, regaled us with tales of boyhood summers, and became the steady beam keeping us on his writing methodology.
Freefall was designed to shut out the ‘critical self’ and let the ‘creative self’ out to play, by getting the writer to write swiftly, checking consciousness for sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touches, which would bring concrete substance to the writing. I spent mornings in a hut on the periphery of the campus banging out Freefall on my electric typewriter and afternoons in the seminar sharing it with my fellow students, W. O., and the brilliant seminar leaders, Ruth Fraser and Sandra Jones. And, as you might have guessed, nights were filled with talk, pints, and camaraderie with the most brilliant folks I had ever encountered.
I managed to bang out over two hundred pages of Freefall that summer. And believe me, that wasn’t out of the ordinary in the writing huts. I also learned to listen carefully to what made writing sing and soar and reach for the wonder of dreams that seemed more real than reality.
I still have those pages with me, yellowing sure, but with me every day as I revisit some of the magical people and places that appeared in the writing hut that special summer. And I continue to write about them every day.
The very smart directors of the Centre assembled leading artists, playwrights, writers, dancers, and musicians in a wild celebration of the best in the arts. Big Miller belted the blues, Alice Munro shared her inner self, Aaron Copeland led the orchestra through his magnificent Appalachian Spring. I saw him alone one evening, rushed up to him and took his hand, and thanked him for the wonder of his music. He was shy and embarrassed by this bold young guy, but he still seemed to beam.
All of this made the hours checking IDs in the cafeteria and the nights snuggled deeply into my sleeping bag seem incredibly romantic, something a struggling young writer should be doing. And, by golly, it’s what I did! Hemingway had his Paris and I had my Banff…
by J. Michael Fay
Published by IslandShorts
(Michael Fay has been promoted on Reading Recommendations.)
I discovered a couple of videos from the 70s posted online of interviews with W.O. Mitchell (who really was quite the character in real life …) and Alice Munro.
Here’s Big Miller and his big blues sound.
This is a complete recording of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.